Gateshead born Mal has been working the entertainment biz for nearly six decades and still has a great passion and enthusiasm for music.
From being a teenager watching bands in the famous Newcastle venue Club a’Gogo, to becoming a seasoned performer on the North East working men’s club circuit, and today, promoting bands and events in Skegness.
I thought he’d have a few stories to tell – he did – so we spent a couple of hours chewing the fat in The Centurion bar in Newcastle Central Station.
First time I heard loud music was in the YMCA in Gateshead, bands like The Sect were playing. It was the ‘60s with the mods and rockers, that was the sounds that influenced me. We were brought up on the best music, we were privileged to be born then.
Going to the Club a’Gogo was the best time of yer life. I saw everybody there – Long John Baldry, the Stones, Eric Burdon, and I was there when Hendrix played.
I’d seen loads of guitar players by then but you knew you were watching someone special. Nobody knew he was gonna be a world legend when he walked on stage.
The Gogo was fantastic, the DJ was Bryan Ferry who went onto Roxy Music fame. Zoot Money was massive when he played, but the biggest pull was Geno Washington & the Ram Jam band, never sold records but always rammed.
I remember when The Animals went to number one with House of the Rising Sun in 1964. They came back from London to the Central Station, got off the train and came to the Gogo. I remember like it was yesterday.
I’ve been involved in music since I was 15. I joined a band called Jacko and got to know all the North East groups working the clubs, the Brass Alleys, the Becketts, John Miles, and my pal Brian Johnson in Geordie.
When I finished with Jacko, I went with a band called Chevy who had Andy Taylor on guitar – later he joined Duran Duran. There was Davey Black from Goldie he lived just over the road.
In fact, Andy had just come back from playing in Germany when he asked me to join on vocals ‘Do ya fancy going on the road with us?’
Andy was a great player, a rock player, so Duran Duran weren’t exactly his style but he told me ‘It’s £50 a week and they have a recording contract’. ‘Good on yer lad’ I said.
Andy rang me up one night ‘We’re playing Newcastle City Hall tonight supporting Hazel O’Connor on the Broken Glass tour do ya fancy comin’ along?’… ‘Wey aye!’
Through the Geordie days I kept in touch with Brian and when he got the gig with AC/DC I went on the Black in Back tour with him.
How it all started was one night when I was singing in Chevy and playing Peterlee Social Club, guitarist Andy Taylor said ‘we’re going to Newcastle Mayfair to see AC/DC tonight’.
This line up was with Bon Scott on the Highway to Hell tour. Well I was blown away by them and told Brian Johnson ‘Ya gotta see this band’.
He was in Geordie Mark 2 at the time who were doing the clubs and using the same PA as us. One night Chevy were doing Lobley Hill Social Club when Brian came to see us and he got up on stage and done Whole Lotta Rosie – next week he was in AC/DC!
He went off to the Bahamas, recorded the album then straight onto the Back in Black tour where I travelled with the band on the UK leg. I remember being in Birmingham and Robert Plant came backstage, it was great, a real honour to meet your hero.
I remember going to Donnington festival, then the States as the band went into Jimi Hendrix’ studio in New York to record vocals for the album For Those About to Rock.
The lads in the band were great, no big stars, they were playing 60,000 stadiums, absolutely massive over there. I was in a bar with Malcolm Young in New York, he told me ‘We knew when Brian walked in, he was the man for the job, we knew he was the kid we wanted’.
Brian didn’t think he was in the band after the audition. But Malcolm phoned ‘You need to come back we’re doing an album’. Brian replied ‘Am I in the band then’! Brian was tailor made for that job.
I managed a rock band called Sergeant and got them on a national tour supporting Accept. What happened was I knew Colin Rowell from music TV show The Tube filmed in Newcastle. He had singer Tony Liddle on one week ‘Can you do anything with these Mal?’
So, I went with Brian Johnson to see the band play at the Gosforth Assembly Rooms. I liked what I saw so rang John Jackson, an agent I knew in London, and he gave them that UK support tour.
We also put them in Linx Studio in Newcastle, another Brian Johnson connection as he owned the studio. We recorded them and I thought they were tremendous. Tony Liddle was great I thought boy can this kid sing.
Tony was the new breed of rock singer in the North East, you had great frontmen Davey Ditchburn, Terry Slesser, John Miles, all them that had come through, but Tony was a bit younger.
He was also a good songwriter, obviously there is Lindisfarne as your big songwriters from the North East. I remember seeing them and they were new, fresh a different style, Alan Hull was an amazing talent.
Anyway, we took the demo tape to London and the first person to listen to it was Peter Mensch, Def Leppard manager.
We were in his house and asked him ‘What do ya think of these’? Bearing in mind he had just signed Metallica. ‘They’re alright Mal, hang on to the singer’. In the end RCA were looking at giving them a singles deal.
But one day Tony walked in and told us he’s leaving the band. ‘I’m joining The Strangeways’. A Scottish band who already had a deal with plenty money behind them. That broke Sergeant up.
We gave it our best shot, they had supported Nazareth in Scotland, been on a UK tour with Accept including a sold-out show at Hammersmith Odeon and we put them in front of record companies.
When I came back from America with AC/DC, video jukebox’s had just kicked off so I went into that business. I got the franchise for a company selling a video jukebox to pubs.
I worked with a guy for years called Percy Sheeran, whose family have the fairground in South Shields, he was doing the fruit machines and I was doing the music. A great team.
Then we started Arcadia Leisure selling PA’s and sound equipment from the Team Valley in Gateshead. After that closed down Percy’s brother Walter opened bars, leisure centres and arcades in Skegness, he asked me to come down, ‘Nah I like the Toon too much’ I said. But I’m still with him to this day!
The music scene is good down there, I’m booking bands all the time, I’m putting on festivals in the summer. We’ve got some local bands from Lincoln playing, Butlins is next door with rock festivals and alternative nights – always rammed.
I’ve got four or five bands from the North travelling down this year, so I still keep in touch with North East musicians. Lorraine Crosby has been down a few times. We’ve been friends around 30 years since she was in Foxy, Lorraine’s a great kid, she done the Meatloaf single as well.
Soon I’ve got an event lined up for the scooter boys – a mod rally at the end of April. There are loads happening.
I enjoy reading your blogs but a guy who doesn’t get a mention is Greg Burman. During the ‘60s the Greg Burman Soul band played at the Gogo, he also built amps for all the bands coming through like Lindisfarne, and made stuff for Thin Lizzy and Status Quo.
He was based in Newcastle’s Handyside Arcade which sadly isn’t there now. I dealt with him in the ‘70s, a lovely fella, what a gentleman. It’ll be a great story if you can talk to him.
Alikivi February 2023.